They’re held up as the magic elixir, a technology to cure all ills, the mighty “Connector”. “Don’t worry” the salesman will tell you. Our solution integrates into that solution, we have a “Connector”. But what exactly is a “Connector” and is it all that those polished salesy types make it out to be ?
A connector is a clever way of exchanging data over the web between two systems. In that regard it is a way of integrating software, but here’s where the average business owner ends up getting head faked, because integration as defined by the use of a connector, is really the process of making a copy of that data, and sending it over the web to another app which then neatly inserts it into its database – all behind the scenes absent any manual intervention. In other words, a connector is a way of automating the duplication and pasting of data that you’d normally have to do manually when running two systems.
This BTW is absolutely awsome (as someone that remembers what it was like before that was possible). But even an awsome technology like this can be over used and miss applied. Penecilian was and continues to be an awsome discovery, but prescribe it for everything that ills us, and soon it ends up doing more harm than good. What’s that saying about too much of a good thing ends up being bad for you ?
Consider that small business lives in a world dominated not just by QuickBooks, but by the very technology legacy its success has cemented into the minds of business owners everywhere. It’s now considered established wisdom that small business must revolve (statistically this is true in 80% of SBs out there BTW) around QuickBooks or some financial point package at the hub surrounded by other systems such as CRM and E-Commerce. And unlike 10 years ago, today’s businesses know they must be a connected enterprise to compete (“cloudy” is all the rage). So if that’s true, isn’t a connector just what the doctor ordered ? Well yes, in some cases, and absolutely no in others. Keep reading, the plot thickens !
How connectors are getting miss applied ?
So let’s say your every small business USA selling widgets, and you started running on QuickBooks years ago, and later added a connected WMS and Order Management system. Maybe you sell online and added a Big Commerce store, and then listed on Amazon. Youv’e extolled the virtues of CRM and love what SalesForce.com has done for your sales staff – also connected. You’ve grown a bit and realized, like many, that there are efficiency gains to be realized by outsourcing your non-local logistics to 3PLs (just like the Fortune 500s). Then out of the blue Walmart or some other big customer approves you as a vendor, but like many big customers these days, they’ll not email POs, and you can’t email their A/P department an invoice, everything has to move around EDI.
Like that proverbial frog in the pan of warming water, your business has gradually entered connector hell. So what’s happening ? Look at the following illustration, and the end result is self evident.
In these examples we see that core systems from the QuickBooks stack needs to use connectors to duplicate required data with other core systems, as compared to the BizAutomation example. The lesson ? While all these data should be integrated (no argument there), the integration technology used to integrate them is crucial, because while there is no other option other than to use connectors between core and non-core systems, in-between core systems, the use of them becomes a huge efficiency drain. How you ask ?. Let me answer a hypothetical question with just a few short questions every widget selling business needs to ask of their business systems, and the answer will become self evident. BTW – I can come up with dozens of these “gotcha” questions, so don’t think this is the extent of them.
1. BigCommerce, like any self respecting e-commerce app has cart abandonment logic which gives you access to leads that never became customers because they never clicked “Submit Order”. The data can be used to follow-up or remarket to that lead. Since clearly you have to connect customers and orders to QuickBooks, where do the prospects go ? Do you connect them to SalesForce or QuickBooks ? Before you answer, what good is a Prospect from BigCommerce without knowledge of the items they almost purchased. I don’t know the answer either (In BizAutomation this one is a no brainer).
2. SalesForce.com like many CRMs has very slick web to lead forms, so you can get leads from your web site, in order to apply sales opportunities through the pipeline into (hopefully) a customer. So congratulations, you’ve now converted a lead into a customer. Why are they a customer ? because they’re going to buy what you sell. So where is that data (Some SalesForce editions support items) and were are you connecting it to, the Order Mgt system, QuickBooks, both ? Ok, probably the Order Mgt system. So now you create the order to adjust warehouse levels, which then should connect back to QuickBooks to perform Invoicing duties. Whoops the customer made a mistake. They wanted 5 Red Widgets not 3 Green ones, and they’re changing the ship-to so you need to update the FedEx ground rates, and shipping labels. Which of the “now 3 apps with the same data” should you update, so it cascade updates the other 2 (don’t ask me, I’m confused too) ?
3. How are you going to handle global reporting ?
4. How about workflow automation, across all core systems ?
Etc..., Etc... Etc.... Let it be said once and for all, that yes, QuickBooks, and SalesForce, and all the BIG, HUGE even software companies have established the standard by which most small business revolves - namely, around disconnected core apps that are connected using automated duplication (good for the solution partner ecosystems), we've just proven it's not the ideal for small business.